Rock-Paper-Scissors is a game most any child can grasp. Rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock. California’s landmark Parent Empowerment Act—a.k.a. the Parent Trigger—is a little bit like the child’s game, with a concept so simple even a child could understand it and only an educrat could foul it up.
The point of the Parent Trigger is to empower parents of children at failing schools to surmount local bureaucracies that often stand in the way of meaningful reforms. If half of parents at a failing public school sign a petition, the local district must undertake one of several reforms prescribed by law. (You can read all about it here.)
In short, parents trump bureaucrats.
California’s law is getting its first test in the city of Compton, which maintains some of the worst schools in the state. The Compton Unified School District’s board of trustees last week voted unanimously and without comment to reject a parent group’s petition to convert McKinley Elementary School into an independent charter. CUSD’s reasons are explained in this seven-page staff memo.
The gist of it is the parents didn’t do a very good job of proofreading their work, and they clipped rather than stapled supporting documents to the petition.
In other words, according to Compton Unified’s trustees, scissors break rocks, paper covers scissors, and, for the moment, a staple beats a trigger.
The Wall Street Journal weighed in Wednesday with a very tough editorial lambasting California Gov. Jerry Brown and calling on President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to speak up for Compton parents the way they’ve spoken out for Wisconsin teachers unions.
Meantime, the intrepid bloggers at L.A. Weekly have offered their own jargon-to-English translation of Compton Unified’s decision.
In all likelihood, the Compton case will be sorted out by lawyers, not parents and school officials. The Compton parents filed their lawsuit on Feb. 3, in response to the school district’s demand that the parents show up at the central office, picture ID in hand, and submit to a short interview to “verify” their signatures. As one of the parents’ attorneys explained last week: “The district reviewed the petition not to verify the signatures, but to disqualify them.” A Los Angeles Superior Court judge last month granted a temporary restraining order against the district pending a hearing, set for March 22.
Regardless of the outcome of the Compton in a court of law, opponents of the Parent Trigger are quite clearly losing in the court of public opinion. With the lone exception of the Los Angeles Times, just about every major newspaper in the Golden State plus the Wall Street Journal has come out in support of the trigger.
In response, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson—an outspoken opponent of the parental empowerment law when he served in the Legislature—on Monday released a letter to newspaper editors insisting he wants nothing more than a better Parent Trigger.
“Our schools need involved parents—particularly ones who are ready and willing to use every tool at their disposal to help their children succeed,” Torlakson writes. “Without a clear process in place, however, we risk diverting too much of their valuable time and energy from classrooms to courtrooms.”
We’ll soon see if Torlakson’s reassuring words are backed with adequate deeds. A working group is developing a proposal for “cleaning up” the law, and the State Board of Education meets next week. For the time being, however, the superintendent makes a point that cannot be stressed enough: “The law remains fully in effect and operative. No regulations are required for it to remain fully available as a tool for parents.”
The education establishment may well want to lock the parent trigger, but until Gov. Brown signs new legislation, the current law remains a powerful weapon for parents who are prepared to fight for their kids’ rights.